Friday, February 26, 2010

90s Underdog Sports Movies

Because most of us aren't Olympic-caliber athletes and will never earn multimillion dollar contracts with professional sports franchises, the underdog story tends to speak to us on a personal level. When it does, it's saying something like, "You may not be talented, but with this level of drive and determination you can outshine all of those people with legitimate athletic ability." It's like a small way of keeping the dream alive. As a child you may have fantasized about playing in the NBA or being an Olympic gold-medal gymnast, but when puberty ended and you were either 5'1'' or 6''7 respectively, you may have had to adjust your dreams slightly. Actually, the short guy might have just wanted to trade with the tall guy, and you may have been gone on to great success in living out the other's wildest calisthenic desires.

The underdog story strikes a special chord with all of us, regardless of how successful we are in our current endeavors. At one point or another, every one of us has had at least a brief taste of hopelessness and self doubt. If our lives worked like the movies, we would see these feelings as our cue to grow and learn and eventually beat out our anonymously evil opponent, but unfortunately real life doesn't play out that way. That's precisely what makes the theme so attractive to us in film: it gives us a sliver of hope that we may someday achieve our indefinitely improbable dream.

Who doesn't like to root for the underdog? I once almost won the jackpot in a March Madness pool by picking a solid lineup of underdogs. At the time, I had no knowledge of college basketball, so I based my strategy solely on my knowledge of cheesy, heartwarming sports cinema. For awhile, it was really working for me, too. If only things had ended up as well for the teams I'd chosen as they had for say, the Mighty Ducks, I would have been a temporarily rich woman.

While not always probable, these stories help us get through the hard times. Or at the very least, they test our crying reflexes. Some of these warrant a full Kleenex multi-pack. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Mighty Ducks

I still can't believe this is sitting steady at 8% on Rotten Tomatoes. It's a 90s classic. Its many many sequels and franchising opportunities tell the real story; we didn't necessarily need a critically acclaimed movie to rush out and buy oodles of licensed merchandise. We would settle for a standard underdog story. Our consumerism isn't too picky.


RUDY - Feature Film Trailer from Edgar Faarup on Vimeo.

Rudy is truly one of those classic underdog movies. Even just watching the trailer gets me all riled up against everyone who told Rudy that his dreams were impossible. Granted, they were probably right. Like the groundskeeper remarks, he's 5 foot nothin' and weighs a hundred and nothin', plus he has no real aptitude for athletics. None of that is enough to deter Rudy, though, bless his heart. He's a pretty persistent guy.

Good thing, too, because he's become an enduring inspiration to us 90s kids. It wouldn't work as well if he'd thrown in the proverbial towel, no matter how sweaty he'd gotten it. If this movie didn't make you cry, maybe nothing will. It's a real tears-of-joy kind of flick.

The Sandlot

This movie is just brimming with quotable one-liners and pure, kid-driven heart. It's a sweet movie filled with ragtag misfits that separates itself from the pack of underdogs by not focusing so heavily on winning or losing. What's more important, it seems, is just being a kid. And avoiding certain death at the jaws of a savage English Mastiff. You know, the usual.

A League of their Own

I don't care what the degree of odds stacked against you as a professional female baseball player: there is absolutely no crying in baseball. I checked all of the rulebooks and Jimmy Dugan is absolutely right. No crying. Even if you're a Rockford Peach and have thin skin.

Hoop Dreams

Alas, proof that the heartstring-tugging underdog story isn't always fictional. Hoop Dreams is a documentary, but it's really only about basketball on a surface level. Like many documentaries, it gets to the heart of issues including race and societal values. The movie follows two kids for six years (8th grade to college) as they progress in their athletic careers, and these filmmakers captured more drama and tension than that found in fictional screenplays. In short, it's a great movie. If you haven't already, your homework assignment is to watch it. Report back on Monday.


Cross-dressing movies are inherently funny, right? I haven't seen this one in ages, but as I kid I was pretty certain it was knee-slappingly hilarious. A clueless Rodney Dangerfield (is there any other kind?) ends up coaching a girls' soccer team and enlists his soon-to-be stepson as one of the players. I had a huge crush on Jonathan Brandis, so I watched this movie probably 30 times. Consecutively. I'm still not over his death. Anyway, back to the movie: adults probably found it pretty hit or miss, but it was child-directed comedic gold.

Mystery, Alaska

There are so many characters in this movie, it's almost tough to tell who's the underdog. The movie essentially takes a stand against things that are fairly easy to take a stand against: evil big corporations, people who cheat on their spouses, sleazy television producers; it's not a huge leap to get us on board with it all. The big hockey game almost feels like a secondary plot in this one, though, so it didn't earn as much fanfare as its underdog-rooting cinematic peers.

Major League

Cut me a little slack here; this one came out in 1989, but it has all the classic makings of a 90s underdog story. Even that trailer follows the misfit montage to a T. Unlike some of the other movies on this list, Major League actually manages to be funny while executing its hackneyed storyline. We're willing to forgive the cliches because it's a genuinely entertaining film. Plus, Charlie Sheen plays Charlie Sheen. That's so unlike him.

The Cutting Edge

Okay, okay, I admit. I have a weakness for incredibly cheesy sports movies. As far as sports films go, this is pretty much as girly as it gets. At least this film throws another standard cliche into the mix: the mismatched-but-inevitably-suited-for-romance partnership. The spoiled Muffy and tough-guy meathead are clearly meant to be together from the beginning, but the fun of the movie is in watching the tribulations of their initial togetherness. Spoiler alert: They win, and they get together. I'm sure you're shocked.

Little Giants

Wow, how young is Ed O'Neill in that trailer?

I loved this movie as a kid, but looking at it now it's obvious it's about as by the books as you can get with an underdog story. It's like the writers took every Bad News Bears-style cliche from every kids' sports film ever made and synthesized them into a single film. They may well have named it, Generic Cliched Sports Film: Children's Edition. Even with its weaknesses, it appeals well to children. Anyone over the age of 10 may not be quite so generous with their reviews, unless they had a real thing for Devon Sawa. I know I did.

It goes to show that films don't need originality to entertain us. They can usually make up for it with a hearty dose of feeding our delicate psyches the reinforcement and reassurance it needs to delude us into thinking we can achieve the impossible. Don't get me wrong. Dream big, and all that. We don't watch movies to remind us of our own shortcomings; we watch movies to escape from the mundane trials of daily life. For the most part, it works too. Assuming the little guy wins, that is.


Literary Crap said...

I still love The Ladybugs and Little Giants!
I think I need to see Rudy, though. Sean Astin spoke at my school last semester and everyone was going crazy about Rudy. As far as I knew, his film credits ended with The Goonies and LOTR.

Sadako said...

I found out that Bitty Schram (Sharona on Monk) was the crying woman in League of their Own. That's gotta be an awesome role to put on the resume. "I was the no crying player!"

Great post as usual.

Swoosh said...

hoops dreams might be the best documentary made in the 90's.

Amber K. said...

I too was born in '85 (& grew up in Houston). I was in LOVE with Little Giants & Devon Sawa! I had his posters all on the inside door of my closet. : )

Little Mrs Domestic said...

A league of their own is still one of my favorite movies.. Looking back I am surprised at some of the things that were in there and our parents let us watch it! Amazing how the young mind misses things. Oh and loved little Giants too. Great movie!

digigirl02 said...

I loved "Little Giants," when I was a kid, and "The Sandlot," and "The Mightly Ducks," are awesome as well.

LAK said...

I don't care that it's old and dated but The Cutting Edge is still one of my all time favourite movies. In fact, while watching figure skating the other night, I yelled at the TV "do the Pamechenko!"

And, the Mighty Ducks? Josh Jackson. Sigh. The Flying V is awesome-the most underused offense move in my mind. What I would give to see someone break that out in the NHL....

Jen said...

I have such a soft spot in my heart for most of these movies.

Mighty Ducks, Cutting Edge, League of Their Own, Ladybugs, even Little Giants!

I was recently at a minor league hockey game and kept yelling at the team: "flying V!" and "quack quack quack!" It amused me to no end.

Charlotte said...

Great post, great movies! Mighty Ducks, League of Their Own, Little Giants, Rudy... I may be completely unathletic, but I love me some 90s underdog sports movies.

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RAY J said...

That's surprising The Might Ducks has such a low rating on Rotten Tomatoes, considering there's an NHL hockey team that took up the name in the short years after the movie came out...

Where's Cool Runnings on this list? Growing up, I loved that one! And you can't get anymore underdog than a group of Jamaicans competing in the Winter Olympic Bobsled races! The fact it's based on a true story is even more inspiring too... I have an urge to watch this one every time the Olympics are on =)

Children of the 90s said...

Ray J, you are totally right. I knew I was forgetting something! I'll have to do a full Cool Runnings post. I love that movie!

xeroxahippo said...

I loved young Devon Sawa in Little Giants

Cheryl said...

I'm always for the underdog.
That's why I love the Leafs.

lissa said...

I love watching The cutting edge, even though it's predictable but DB Sweeney makes it worth it

Anonymous said...

Rudy's brother was my high school gym teacher in New Lenox, IL. Needless to say, he was INTENSE. Never saw the movie, though.

Darren Daiboa said...

Great choice of movies. It agrees with my pick of essential underdog movies, which I find in this list.

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